Newport This Week

this week’s Conversation with Elizabeth ‘Lisette’ Prince

(Photo by David Hansen)

(Photo by David Hansen)

Elizabeth “Lisette” Prince grew up all over the world, but has called Newport home for decades. She has photographed and interacted with countless renowned people, including Marc Chagall, David Niven and Sargent Shriver.

While living in Monaco, the invite only Garden Club de Monaco reached out to her about joining. She tried to decline, but was told her sponsor was Princess Grace Kelly. When she asked the Princess, a friend of hers about it, Princess Grace told her “we need a free photographer for our trips.

Her father worked in radio and for travel agencies, while her mother was a researcher for Time magazine. Her grandfather was a successful businessman who made his fortune through investments. Her great grandmother, Abby, was born in the building now home to Newport Blues Café.

Prince wanted to work for the family business, but in the days of her youth that was an opportunity only afforded to men. An inquisitive mind and connection to the camera helped her land a freelance photographer position in Paris in 1968.

Prince is a supporter of several philanthropic efforts. She was proud to mention the work being done at Rhode Island Hospital’s Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute, and talked with excitement about the strides other local charities are making.

How did you become interested in photography?

My father gave me a camera, and when the film came back it was color. I was mesmerized. I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya with a friend. I really learned how to see there. I shot 25 rolls of Kodachrome between a month on a ranch and one on safari. Later, I worked in a darkroom in Little Italy. One can really learn how to make a better picture in the darkroom.

I was in the Chicago Sun-Times building when I saw the editor in-chief, Mr. Hoge. I told him I wanted to learn about the business, but they had no openings. He could see that I was hooked and provided me with credentials that allowed me to take professional photographs for the newspaper. I worked on a freelance basis for the Sun-Times, Time and Women’s Wear Daily in Paris before heading back to Switzerland, where I met my first husband.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Oregon. My mother met my father as he was decommissioned from the army. We moved to Boise, Idaho after that. My dad loved it, but my mom hated it. Both my parents had a lot of experience living in Europe, so the first part of my life I lived in Switzerland, then we moved around to different countries like France, Spain, Austria and Majorca.

My brother was born in Switzerland, a year and a half after me. After a few years, my parents realized they had two children who didn’t speak English, only French and Spanish, so they decided they better bring us back to America.

What do you remember about coming back to the U.S.?

My vision of America was the Empire State building, cowboys and Indians and rice krispies. One of my life’s biggest memories is entering New York Harbor before dawn in 1954. There were many people in dark clothes looking into the fog as we all saw the Statue of Liberty come into view.

What are your early memories of Newport?

Staying with grandparents at Marble House, upstairs. The furniture downstairs was covered with sheets. I was convinced ghosts would appear at night. My brother and I played hide-and-seek, and I found a dumbwaiter to hide in. I didn’t know that you couldn’t open the dumbwaiter from the inside. I was stuck in there for hours. I was really afraid of the place. My cousin, Didi Lorillard, was living at the Norman Bird Sanctuary, so I decided I would stay with them instead of the spooky Marble House. The first night we went to the Starlight Drive-In and saw “Psycho.” It was quite the drive back to the farmhouse!

I remember being out on the water with Didi. There was no wind, so we were sunning ourselves when a big military ship alerted us we were in its path by blowing its horn. We had to jump out of the boat and paddle it out of the way.

You owned Newport This Week from 1995 to 2003. Was it a natural jump to a community newspaper?

No, I was a photo journalist so I had no idea about ads or what a running sheet was, but felt the community could be better represented, so I formed Community Communications Corporation and purchased the paper from Richard Maraziti.

Newport This Week really evolved. We added more neighborhood news, more about politics, real estate and the arts, plus popular columns like “02840” and the police blotter. Jonathan Kiefer really developed the police blotter. It was the most read section and the one we received the most complaints about, as it made fun of the way people got arrested in town. The other local media outlets weren’t covering the waterfront. I credit my daughter, Diana, with starting the Harbor News section.

Are there any stories that stick out from your time at the paper?

The first story I worked on was about Thompson Middle School. Was it going to get built, how would it be built. My final story was also about Thompson Middle School.

One thing I never did that I wish I had was print the school’s lunch menus. It is good for the parents to see what their kids are eating.

Where do you get your news these days?

I listen to Public Radio and of course, read Newport This Week.

You and your family are known for your philanthropy. What organizations excite you right now on Aquidneck Island?

Star Kids is amazing and FAB Newport is terrific. Gnomes Surf teaches kids with physical and mental handicaps to surf. Aquidneck Growers Market and the gardens at the Quaker Meeting House are so important to the community, too.

You were an early supporter of Save The Bay and are very passionate about the environment.

A former director from Save the Bay approached me in 1983 and said she didn’t think the summer community cared about the bay. I thought they must not be informed about the problems, so I decided to help with the fundraising. At the time, Noreen Drexel was throwing black-tie dinner parties to support organizations. I asked Kitty Mouse Cook, who knew everyone in town, what they did before black-tie dinners and she said clambakes. So that is what we did. David Ray provided the wine and liquor and Tom Cullen gave us chicken at the wholesale rate. The uneaten food went to the MLK Center. It was a time of infancy of awareness of the environment. I remember I was asked, “Is environmentalism chic?” I responded, “I hope so.”

What do you think people should be doing to support the environment now?

It would be nice to get people on electric buses and not using plastic, especially straws. There is vegan matter and packaging is now being made out of mushrooms. I’m fascinated by new discoveries.

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